ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A senior commander with the Iran-backed Shia Hashd al-Shaabi militia on Sunday denied having withdrawn from the province of Nineveh, stating forces had been ‘repositioned’ in coordination with the Joint Operations Command.
The statement came as local officials in Nineveh raised security concerns as the militia evacuated many areas in the province.
“Recent reports on the withdrawal of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) from the province of Nineveh are completely false,” Jawad Kazem, a commander with the Shia militia argued in a statement. “There are no withdrawals” in Nineveh.
“What is happening is the redeployment of forces elsewhere in coordination with the Joint Operations Command,” Kazem asserted.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Chief of Staff of the Peshmerga Forces, Jamal Eminki, explained to Kurdistan 24 on Sunday morning that they are fully aware of the Hashd al-Shaabi’s (PMF) movements in Nineveh, but noted the Iraqi army was supposedly taking over the security file in evacuated areas.
According to an order Kurdistan 24 obtained, the PMF had decided to eliminate certain Centers of Operation in Nineveh, deeming the “stability and security situation” in the province under the command of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of all Iraqi armed forces, no longer warrants their presence.
“It was decided we would remove our operations command centers in western Nineveh, eastern Nineveh, and Baiji and consolidate our efforts in a newly-establish headquarters for the leadership of the Nineveh Operations led by Ali Kazim,” the document, issued on Aug 2 and signed by the deputy chairman of the PMF, Jamal al-Ibrahim and known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, read.
The Shia militias also announced the full evacuation of its forces from the bordering area in western Nineveh, which will gradually be taken over by the main Operations Command in Nineveh.
The document mentioned that the PMF decided to remove its 14th brigade from Nineveh entirely. They also reiterated their determination for every militia under their umbrella to vacate the city of Mosul.
Iraqi forces and the Shia militias took control of most of the disputed areas between the KRG and the Federal Government of Iraq following last year’s referendum on independence for the Kurdish semi-autonomous region. The Nineveh province as a whole, however, is not contested.
Their control also includes the strategic city of Sinjar (Shingal) and surrounding Ezidi towns located on the Syrian border.
“Da’esh [Islamic State (IS)] members are so close to our borders, we can see them. People are more worried about the security situation now that the Hashd al-Shaabi is abandoning the region,” Nayif Saido, Mayor of Snune town in Shingal, told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday.
“It used to be that with the Zeravani [Peshmerga] forces in our areas, people could peacefully sleep at night. After the Iraqi forces took over [in October last year], the area was also secure, to a certain extent.”
Nayif Badal, the head of the Shingal city council, expressed his concerns and warned that IS might take advantage of the security gap and commit another genocide against the Yezidis (Ezidis), referring to the IS attacks on the ethnoreligious minority in Aug. 2014.
“We ask the Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal government of Iraq to protect our areas in cooperation with the US to prevent another genocide from taking place in the region,” Badal told Kurdistan 24.
“Peshmerga and Iraqi forces must jointly be deployed and stationed in our areas as soon as possible.”
Editing by Nadia Riva